remember heroes of Oct. 23, 1983
By Cpl. Douglass P. Gilhooly
“It was like any other Sunday,” said Col. Claude H. Davis III, the former senior
personnel administrator for II Marine Expeditionary Force, as he recalled the
morning of Oct. 23, 1983 and the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut.
“Normally, I would go to lift weights in the battalion landing team building,”
he explained, but that day he reported to his office instead. “The Dallas
Cowboys Cheerleaders came to visit the night before, so a lot of us had some
work to catch up with.”
“I was in the office, busily typing away on casualty reports (reports of Marines
and Sailors killed by enemy sniper fire and small explosions), when I heard this
loud boom,” said Davis. “Hearing an explosion was quite common at this time, but
I felt this one was very close and much louder. It shook my building and a few
fans were falling down around the office.”
Davis’ eyes began to mist as he so easily remembered the tragedy of the bombing.
As a first lieutenant and adjutant for the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit, Davis
worked in an old firehouse that served as the MAU headquarters. The explosion
took place some 100 meters away at the BLT building that used to be a hotel.
“As I walked outside and went to investigate the explosion, I was a little
shocked,” he said. “It was pretty chaotic, people were screaming and yelling,
and I really still didn’t know what had happened.
“As I walked along, I continued to hear screams and sirens and I could see a lot
of smoke. I walked on and came to this divide. There were magnificent olive
trees that separated the road between my building and the BLT. I noticed the sun
was beaming on me and I had to take a second glance to make sure I was in the
right spot. Normally at this time the sun was blocked. I passed through the
trees and saw the mass hysteria.”
Upon reaching the blast sight, Davis took stock of his surreal surroundings.
“The building was in flames and much of it was rock and smoke on the ground.
Papers were floating around in the air. As I looked around, I realized there
were Marines still in their sleeping bags up in the trees I had just walked
through. Walking along, I could smell the explosives and bodies.”
According to Davis, being a Marine, no matter what your military occupational
specialty is, in the time of war and terrorist attacks, everyone is affected.
“Most of the Marines and Sailors killed in the bombing were administration,
cooks, corpsmen and supply,” he said. “There were not a whole lot of infantry.
This was a real wake up call for all of us (in Beirut). I learned how important
life is and also how fragile.”
Davis admitted the days that immediately followed the bombing were the hardest.
“We ran out of supplies, and we had to wait for more help to come from the Navy
ships offshore,” he said.
“One thing we ran out of was body bags,” said Davis, “so we had to start using
Davis said it was a time when everyone came together and worked around the clock
to perform the tasks that needed to be done. He compared it to these times in
New York City and in Washington.
Davis added that during his times in Beirut, he said the attitude and
professionalism of Col. Timothy J. Geraghty, 24th MAU commanding officer,
especially impressed him.
“Col. Geraghty is the epitome of what you expect of a Marine as well as an
officer,” said Davis. “He took full responsibility for everything that happened
in the Beirut bombing and I hope, I wish, I will do the same if ever in a
Davis said he wishes to stress the fact Marines must constantly train and hone
“You never know what kind of situation you will be in,” he said. “One day, you
may be someplace like Beirut, and if you don’t constantly sharpen your basic
Marine Corps skills (skills learned in boot camp and Marine Combat Training),
you may not be ready.
“I cannot stress enough, no matter what your MOS is, there is always a
possibility of an attack,” Davis said.
Davis had a last thought for all those who served with him in Beirut.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about the people over there
(Beirut),” he said. “They are always on my mind and in my heart.”
Beirut troops revered
By Eric Steinkopf
Jacksonville Daily News
Oct. 21, 2002
RICHLANDS — As he sits in a rocking chair on the porch of his home in Richlands,
Charles G. Hall gets a distant look in his eyes. He begins to speak in a low and
“A lot of good people died that day,” he says recalling Oct. 23, 1983. Hall, a
retired Marine Corps staff sergeant saw what happened at 6:20 a.m. Beirut time
when 241 servicemen — most attached to Camp Lejeune and New River Air Station —
lost their lives when a terrorist detonated a truck loaded with 12,000 pounds of
explosives at the headquarters of 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment attached to
the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit. They were on a peacekeeping mission.
Hall can never forget. He doesn’t want anyone else to either.
Efforts go back nearly a decade
For nearly a decade Hall and other Beirut survivors have tried to get the U.S.
Postal Service to issue a commemorative stamp to remember those lost in the
bombing. Now as many as 273 have died in the blast, from snipers or as a result
of wounds suffered at the terminal building while they were simply keeping the
airport open to traffic.
“We tried to get a stamp on the 10th anniversary and the 15th anniversary, but
we have been turned down each time,” said Hall, a former infantryman and 1st
Platoon Guide who was at a nearby outpost when the blast occurred. “I don’t
begrudge anybody a stamp that they already received, but it only took a year for
a Sept. 11 stamp and there was stamp for Desert Storm while the troops were
still over there.”
Hall is still not entirely comfortable speaking about all the specific images
that he encountered that day and last year’s Sept. 11 attacks brought memories
of collapsed buildings, dust and lost friends rushing back to him.
“We need to recognize the Marines, sailors and soldiers,” he said.
On the day of the attack, elements of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine
Regiment attached to the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit were on the far side of the
International Airport, approximately 1Â˝ miles away from the four-story terminal
that was converted into a headquarters complex. Hall could see what happened.
“We were at Root Gulch, making coffee Sunday,” Hall said. “It was a clear
morning and you could see their building from our position. When I walked
outside the whole ground vibrated and the building fell. It was devastating.”
To complicate matters, he was responsible for making sure that the 1/8
headquarters had enough people from his unit for miscellaneous duties and they
were constantly exchanging personnel between the sites.
About eight people from an anti-armor section were recently transferred to the
headquarters and several of his men were assigned mess duty there the day before
Now when he visits the Beirut Memorial wall, he looks for the names of friends
such as Lance Cpl. Jefferey Owens from Virginia Beach, Va.; Sgt. MeCot Camara
from West Virginia, Lance Cpl. Bill J. Stelpflug from Auburn, Alabama; Cpl. John
B. Buckmaster from Vandalia, Ohio; and Petty Officer 2nd Class George N.
McVicker II a hospital corpsman from Wabash, Indiana.
They would often talk about their hometowns, life before the military and their
hopes for the future that they never dreamed wouldn’t come to pass.
“Camara was so hard charging and squared away that he made all his ranks
meritoriously,” Hall said. “He named his son Echo after the military phonetic
alphabet. That’s how gungie that kid was.”
Remembering men like Camara is the driving force behind a commemorative stamp.
Hall said he recently sent letters to U.S. Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., and U.S.
Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., asking that the stamp be approved. Hall and others
hope that efforts toward a stamp by the 20th anniversary next year will be
“For the stamp to be licked, sticked and cancelled is not a big deal,” Hall
said. “What’s important is the recognition for those we have lost. What’s fair
So far, however, efforts have hit a wall each time. Hall said in 1993 a group of
Blue Star Mothers who lost husbands and sons in Beirut, approached the U.S.
Postmaster General and the 15-member Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee with
20,000 signatures in favor of the stamp. Committee members turned down the
request. Hall said the reasoning at the time was that the group wanted to honor
positive events and that Beirut lacked significance in American history.
Hall and others don’t see it that way and question whether similar reasons would
be given to the families of those lost in the terrorist attack on America on
Sept. 11, 2001. Hall said he hopes others in America can begin to understand
some of what they experienced and many of the images that still live within them
“The stamp would mean a lot to the families of those who were killed over
there,” Hall said. “It is one of the most patriotic things that you can do for
Beirut survivor wants truth
By Roselee Papandrea
Jacksonville Daily News
June 8, 2003
He rarely talks about it. He tries not to think about it.
Sometimes, it just happens. It's hard to push away what happened in Beirut
almost 20 years ago.
That's how retired Marine Master Sgt. John Selbe, 44, of Hubert, has dealt with
being a survivor of the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon,
on Oct. 23, 1983.
That's how he coped.
"I've moved on with my life," he said. "You have to move on. You have to."
Selbe recently read an article in The Daily News about a federal judge finding
the Iranian government responsible for the Beirut bombing. The news stirred
those emotions that Selbe
works so hard to stifle.
Despite his efforts to forget the day that still haunts his dreams, Selbe feels
compelled to join the 153 plaintiffs -- 26 are survivors -- already listed on
the lawsuit, which was heard in
U.S. federal court in March. The second phase of the lawsuit to determine how
much the plaintiffs will be compensated is expected to be resolved before the
end of October.
"I'm not a whiner who wants a bunch of money," said Selbe, who still suffers
from back problems as a result of his injuries. "I just want the truth to come
out. There are people who are
responsible for this, and they need to pay."
The first few days after hearing about the lawsuit were difficult for Selbe,
especially since he didn't even know one was filed.
"It was a bombshell," he said. "It was something like lightning striking out of
the clear blue sky. It brought it all back. Of course, I would think about it
occasionally and every October at
the memorial service. But it didn't really bring it home like this did because
there was never anyone to blame.
"It brought back all these memories and all these people that I knew. It just
brought it back."
Terance J. Valore, 41, of Pennsylvania, also didn't know about the lawsuit until
Selbe called him recently. A 20-year-old lance corporal at the time of the
bombing, Valore was burned on
more than 95 percent of his body and is considered 100 percent disabled.
While he was "mad" that he wasn't on the lawsuit originally, just knowing he
might be compensated for his injuries has lifted his spirits.
"It's been 20 years and I've been through hell," he said. "I feel like I just
won the lottery for a change. I live paycheck to paycheck, and if it's terrorist
money, I want it all. I want as
much as I can get so my kids don't have to worry about it."
Valore has never really been able to put the bombing behind him.
"I think about it every day -- every minute of every day," Valore said. "My
family and friends help me out a lot. I dwell on it maybe too much, but it helps
He relies on visits with friends like Selbe who make coping easier.
"We went on a hunting trip together, and it was the best feeling in the world to
be with someone who knows what I went through instead of trying to make people
believe what I
mean," Valore said.
Selbe, who was a 25-year-old sergeant from Marmet, W.Va., with 2nd Combat
Engineers, 2nd Marine Division, was supposed to take over guard duty at the U.S.
Marine barracks in
Beirut on the day of the bombing. He usually spent his days training the
Lebanese Army, but on that day his guard shift was supposed to begin at 8 a.m.
He woke up at 6 a.m. to the sound of song birds perched in the trees around the
"I was sitting there smoking a cigarette, and I heard this bang," he said. "I
leaned for my gear at the base of my cot and I heard a voice say, 'John, lay
back down.' When I did, I fell
through the floor."
He fell from his third-floor room to the second floor. The third floor, which
turned to rubble, fell on top of him, burying him alive.
For four hours, he waited and listened to the cries of his fellow comrades --
Marines with the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit from Camp Lejeune and New River Air
Station sent to Beirut
on a peacekeeping mission.
Paralyzed on his left side from the waist up, Selbe couldn't do a thing to help.
He didn't even realize the arm wrapped around his head was his own.
Eventually, he was dug out. Glass was pulled from his ear. He still has concrete
in his back and a scar in the shape of an "H" on his head. He was one of more
than a 100 wounded
survivors. A total of 241 service members, most from Jacksonville bases, died in
Selbe was eventually taken to a hospital in Germany. He had no idea who survived
the blast. He started asking questions at the hospital and that's when he found
Valore in the burn
"I didn't think he was going to make it," said Selbe, who fed his friend because
he wasn't able to do it himself.
Valore was right above the guard shack when a truck laden with explosives parked
in front of the First Battalion, 8th Marines Headquarters building.
"I was talking to a friend, and I turned away from the parade deck," Valore
said. "Then I heard someone say, 'car bomb' and I covered my face. That's why I
am here today. Every scar
I have on my body came from Beirut, Lebanon."
Attorneys Steven R. Perles and Thomas Fortune Fay of Washington, D.C., are
representing the families and injured survivors of the bombing. Perles said that
several years ago, his
office attempted to contact all the families and survivors of the attack. They
knew they missed a lot of people.
"Because of privacy acts, we didn't have a list of survivors or even contact
information for families of deceased," he said.
Since the article ran May 31 in The Daily News, seven people have contacted
Perles about joining the lawsuit.
"While I'm reasonably confident that I will be able to work something out to
fold them into the litigation, there are no guarantees in the law," he said.
"All I'll guarantee is I will give it my
Perles said he doesn't want anybody who is eligible to receive money to be left
out of the lawsuit.
"People who have not been contacted or who failed to respond if they received a
letter, shouldn't dwell on the past," he said. "If they want to participate,
they should call my office.
We'll do the best job we can under the current circumstances.
"It would be a personal tragedy for someone if they sat on their rights, knowing
this lawsuit was going on and they didn't try to join. We don't want to see
anyone left out."
While Selbe would have preferred to keep the details of what happened 20 years
ago tucked in the past, he's relieved that there might finally be some closure
to the tragedy.
"A week ago, I would have said that was part of my past, and I moved on," he
said. "Now that I know there are guilty people out there, I'm glad to find out.
I'm glad it came out and
can put some finality on it."
Families of Beirut victims and survivors of the bombing who are interested in
joining the litigation can contact Perles at (202) 745-1300.
Mike Toma joined
the Marines on his 19th birthday in 1981. After completing boot camp at Parris
Island and Infantry Training School at Camp Geiger in 1982, the guaranteed TOW
was mistakenly assigned to BLT 2/8 Dragons and was immediately deployed to the
Mediterranean. He took part in the evacuation of noncombatants from the U.S.
embassy, evacuation of the PLO and was part of the initial Multinational
Upon returning to the U.S., the paperwork glitch was corrected and Mike was
assigned to 2nd Tank Battalion’s TOW Company. There he was assigned to the TOW
section slated to deploy to Beirut four months later. In that deployment TOWs,
Dragons and Recon shared the responsibility for conducting mobile patrols
throughout the city of Beirut and for providing armed escorts to the embassy,
presidential palace, and various Marine positions. In the weeks preceding the
bombing of the Marine HQ, the landing team suffered casualties in firefights at
the forward lines and from mortar and artillery fire in other locations.
Mike was asleep on the first floor of the barracks at the time of the bombing,
100 feet or less from the explosion. Following the attack, consciousness was
fleeting but he remembers his rescuers removing him from the rubble and recalls
some of the transportation to the USS Iwo Jima and then to a hospital in
Landstuhl, Germany. He remained in Landstuhl for five days and was transferred
to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland where he spent three to four months
recovering from his wounds. His injuries included a collapsed lung, the loss of
an eardrum and perforation of the other, a hip injury, and various cuts and
abrasions. Other symptoms included the vomiting of blood and bloody urine. Mike
went on to recover and underwent reconstructive surgery for the lost eardrum (he
will experience a ringing in his ears for the rest of his life, however).
Following his Beirut experience, Mike served for seven more years in the Corps
with stints in Okinawa and Norway. He was promoted meritoriously to Sergeant
while an instructor at Infantry Training School and was honorably discharged in
1990. He went on to earn a Mechanical Engineering degree from the University of
South Florida and now works for Lockheed Martin Corporation as a manufacturing
engineer. He is a deacon and Sunday school teacher at Idlewild Baptist Church in
Tampa, Florida, and has a wonderful wife of 14 years and two boys.
Mike’s awards include the Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, Navy Unit
Commendation, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Good Conduct Medal (2), Marine
Corps Expeditionary Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Humanitarian
Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (3), and Navy Arctic Service
think it's great that you continue to put this documentary together. For those
of us that served in Beirut those twenty years ago, October 23 will forever be
forged in our memories. I was with 2/6 Dragons, a Corporal. I remember my
roommate Sgt. Schrader walking into our BEQ room at 0 dark 30 on that Sunday
morning. We were alpha air alert, he was the battalion duty NCO. "Sgt Mohr,
Corporal Smith, out the rack, they blew up the barracks at the airport in
Beirut, we're going back". Well we did go back, back to secure the airport, back
to watch as layer by layer we took the debris away- and our Marines, back to get
some payback. We got a little of that, not enough though. During our first tour
in the winter/spring/early summer of '83 I was out at the library for the first
couple of months, but spent my last two months at the airport...in the barracks.
No I'll never forget that day.
Turn the clock forward, 18 years, I'm a partner at Deloitte & Touche, I run the
firm's investment bank. Life is good, wife loves me, my daughter is fantastic,
and I have a son on the way. I was a little late getting to the office that
morning. My 2 1/2 year old daughter wanted some chocolate pudding, I took her to
the grocery store with my wife, I caught a late train into the City. At a little
before 9:00 I'm at Grand Central transferring from the Metro North to the
Subway...the four train to downtown. On the subway someone mentions theirs a
fire at the Trade Center, that's all, no panic a fire. Subway, stop and starts,
then goes through my normal stop...odd but no panic. I'll get off at the next
stop, Wall Street. The subway stops, I get off, head up the stairs. Now
something is wrong. Everyone is stopping, staring towards the Trade Center.
Something is really wrong, the second jet just slammed into the South tower.
I stare, not so much in horror as in disbelief. I can't just stand there though,
the Trade Center is on fire, obviously the situation is desperate, people are
fleeing the area, they're jumping out of the building for God sakes. I'm still a
Marine though, I still can help, what about my people. I work in the World
Financial Center, WFC 2, which is directly across from the North tower. Is my
building on fire? Have my people been evacuated? I ask some cops, nobody knows.
Can I get to the Financial Center, don't know the cops say. I need to though I
say, I think. I start heading down West street. It's pretty well evacuated at
this point. Certainly nobody going my way. My eyes are glued on the Towers. No
fear, no horror, just disbelief. I get to West and Albany, I didn't know that's
where I was, but I retrace my steps months later. I ask a cop in the
intersection, can I get to the Financial Center? I'm standing in the middle of
the street. I'm within a hundred yards of the Marriott WFC, part of the Trade
Center complex. The South Tower looms over me, I'm staring at the fire blazing
up top. I notice the helicopter trying to get in close. Two firemen come behind
me and start walking toward the Complex. It can't be...the top's breaking off,
IT'S COMING DOWN...the cop, the businessman and the two firemen, we all have the
some reaction, now it's horror. This can't be happening. I have the two clearest
thoughts of my life. I'm dead, can't survive this, that building is coming down
on me. I run anyway. The other thought...I never thought It would end this
way... no shit!
Even though the four of us know we are dead, we run, really, run for your life.
We see a wall, we run behind it. Not good. Shit is coming down, still were dead.
Run down the side of the wall, great an open parking garage, better than nothing
but we're still dead. How's a parking garage going to protect us from 110
stories falling on our heads. Maybe though, we run, a couple of parking
attendants, a couple of stragglers, we look, we don't think much, we keep
moving. No back way out, go down, go down the stairs, we do seven of us I think.
Two flights down, we cower in the bottom of a parking garage. I'm next to a
silver BMW 5 series, I'm going to get crushed next to this silver BMW 5 series.
We wait for our building to collapse, it must happen, the debris is hitting it,
it can't stand up to that. The building stands, so far. But the dust, it's
choking, it's blinding...shit we're trapped and we're going to suffocate. Still
alive though. No, I'm not going to die lack a trapped rat. Back up the stairs,
let's go. We all go. Doors jammed, we get it open. We're back on the ground
floor, can't see, can't breathe. Not panicked, but desperate to breathe. The
fireman, they're desperate too, They find the building fire hose, the spray our
jackets down, we use them as masks. We start looking for an exit, maybe we can
dig our way out. There's the exit, let's go. Let's start digging. No need to dig
though, our parking garage stands...because the Trade Center primarily collapsed
straight down.. The streets are littered with debris, some big stuff, big steel
but mostly dust and papers. It's like a nuclear bomb went off, the dust in the
air is still thick, still can't breathe. Cars are crushed, the streets are
Decision time, not really. The fireman, they go right...towards what was 15
minutes ago the South Tower. They have to that's where their brothers are. Me,
the cop we go left,, what happened to my people, to my building. We head to the
river. Unbelievable, a couple of stunned survivors standing and staring. A woman
in an electric wheel chair, they were all caught out in the open, they survived.
Jesus, come on with us, we'll head to the river. We get to the river, I see my
building, hell it's right next to me. It's intact, more survivors straggling to
the river. My building has been evacuated. Now what. Turn back toward the Trade
Center...it never entered my mind...nobody behind us could have survived. Should
I have went back? Maybe, would I have died? Definitely. Do I wish I had went
back? I don't know.
We all head toward Battery Park, we walk along the river. The air is getting a
little better. Oh shit...the other Tower's coming down now! We huddle on the
river, crouching against the rail, like that's going to do any good. But we are
far enough away, no debris, but here comes the choking dust. It passes, the
buildings are gone. Ambulances, not many though, are bringing some of the
survivors to the river. Here come the boats, It's frickin Dunkirk. Tugs and
ferries. We load up the wounded, passing them over the rail. We load up the old,
the women and the children. We comfort the old lady, whose daughter was behind
Finally my turn. There are only a couple of us left. I get on a tug. I go up
top. It's 11:30 in the morning on September 11, 2001. Four hours ago I was
buying chocolate pudding at the Stop n Shop for my little blond girl. Now, well
now, I'm being evacuated from lower Manhattan on a tug, the Trade Center is
gone, buildings are on fire, fighter are flying cover over the City...and oh
yeah it's the most amazing blue sky I've ever seen!
It'll never be the same, well no, but it never is. October 23, 1983 to September
11, 2001, this isn't right. No it wasn't right in April of 1983 when they
attacked the embassy either. Ok life goes on...for some of us. Was John Chipura
one of those firemen that went right when I went left. Don't know, it haunts me
One more time, move the clock forward. July 23, 2003. My wife still loves me, my
kids are awesome. And I'm still haunted by those two days.
Ed: sorry for the spelling and grammar, I'm not going to go back and look at
what I wrote. I just poured it out.
Gregg H. Smith
National Managing Director
Deloitte & Touche Corporate Finance LLC
Weapons Company, Dragons Platoon
2nd Bn, 6th Marines